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Five years after heart-saving TAVR procedure, Beacon patient still lives life to fullest

Cheryl Laskowski

What does your heart tell you? He’s got real heart. Her story comes from the heart.

Though we know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood throughout our body, we can’t help but associate it with emotions. So when there’s a problem with our heart, it somehow seems to hit harder.

Cheryl Laskowski – a former nurse and a wife, mother, grandmother and woman of faith – has had to take special care of her heart. She nearly died on the operating room table during open heart surgery in 2010. And it led to a second open heart surgery less than two weeks later.

Needless to say, when Cheryl, an avid walker, felt short of breath on a trip to Florida’s Busch Gardens in 2018, she prayed the problem this time wouldn’t mean another open heart surgery. She prayed there might be other options as she made an appointment to see a cardiologist.

She met with Memorial doctors who, in fact, answered her prayers.

This time, Cheryl needed help for the deterioration of her replaced heart valve. Repeat open heart surgery would be dangerous. After multiple rounds of tests, she was determined to be a good candidate for TAVR, or transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a relatively new, minimally invasive procedure.

TAVR was developed as a less invasive and safer way to replace the aortic valve than opening up the chest. Ronald Nelson, MD, a cardiologist at Beacon Medical Group Cardiothoracic Surgery, explains how your doctor uses advanced imaging techniques to guide the catheter carrying your new valve though your blood vessels to your diseased aortic valve.

“The new valve begins to function immediately,” Dr. Nelson says. TAVR patients are usually up and walking the same day as their surgery and recovery is much faster than other procedures. “TAVR was originally approved for high-risk patients who were unable to have open heart surgery. Now, it is approved for lower-risk patients.”

Cheryl said the doctors who performed her TAVR procedure “got me back to better than normal.”

How is she doing today, five years later? We recently caught up with Cheryl to find out.

“Nothing slows me down”

As someone who likes to stay busy and live life to the fullest, Cheryl has never allowed her heart problems to get in her way. She says she has things to do and family – including 10 grandchildren – to enjoy.

As it did for so many of us, the COVID pandemic temporarily put an unfortunate damper on the number of adventures she could take. She also needed to have a cardiac rhythm therapy defibrillator implant to help her maintain a proper heart rhythm and improve her heart function, something that Dr. Nelson says is unrelated to her TAVR procedure.

“I feel good,” she says. “Nothing slows me down.”

Dr. Ronald Nelson

Since 2021, Cheryl has gotten out the map again and started traveling more. She most recently went on a mission trip to Panama with her husband, daughter, three grandchildren and members of her church.

“I did everything everybody else did,” she says about her endurance during the weeklong journey.

The group helped children in underdeveloped areas, serving meals and distributing clothing. She feels lucky to be present on a trip that made such a big impact on her grandchildren. “They got to realize just how lucky and fortunate they are,” she says. “Some of these kids may get one meal a day. They saw all these huts that they lived in with dirt floors.

“It made me feel great because we were helping people that were truly in need,” says this big-hearted grandmother.

When she’s not traveling, Cheryl spends as much time as she can keeping up with her grandchildren. She also started quilting several years ago and attends “quilt camps” once or twice a year with about 50 other women.

“I’ve got a quilt camp coming up this month where we quilt from 6 a.m. in the morning to 3 a.m. for four days. It’s crazy, but it’s fun,” she says. And with three of her grandkids graduating from high school this year, she’s busy making quilts for graduation gifts.

“Those graduations will be here before you know it. They’re all growing up. My gosh, I can’t believe it.”

To make sure her heart stays in tip-top shape for everything that comes with her busy but amazing life adventures, Cheryl continues to see her Beacon cardiologist every six months.

“These treatments have made it possible for Cheryl to have a wonderful heart function and a good and happy life. Nothing makes me feel better,” Dr. Nelson says. “Cheryl has beat our expectations. She can now expect years of good health.”

Because of everything she has endured, Cheryl wants others to know they should trust their instincts if something about their health seems a little off.

“If you don’t feel right, get it checked out. You know your body better than anybody,” she advises. “And do the follow-up as you’re instructed to do. You’ve got to put in the work. It makes you stronger and better, faster.

“It’s worth it in the long run.”

Be mindful of your heart health

Schedule today with a Beacon primary care physician to discuss important cardiovascular screening options. Click here to find a family doctor. Patients who need further care will be referred to a Beacon cardiologist. You can trust our Beacon specialists with your heart health needs.